Only a universe with an initial density exactly equal to critical density would be capable both of engendering motherly stars and of lasting long enough to provide a home for the nuclear, chemical, and biological reactions required for life to subsist. . . . This “fertile” density is the first condition any universe must meet before it can hope to produce its own observer. —Hubert Reeves, The Hour of Our Delight

                 Muse of the universe,
muse of mass-energy, I’d never known
                 critical density
is a conception that I need
                 to take personally—

        the speed required right at the start
for fiery particles to be propelled
       without collapsing back because
              the pull of gravity
could halt expansion and prevent the laws

         that govern entropy and cooling
from engendering enduring stars.
                  Through improvising time,
      mothering stars could then provide us
with a place where melody and rhyme,

        in turn, would be conceived from
nuclear and chemical reactions,
                 from organic ooze.
        I’d never known that metaphor
also required mothering, so that deep blues

         can represent our gloom,
green can convey renewal, red evoke desire,
         and white betoken emptiness
or innocence because initial particles
                designed us to express

what our initiating species has become—
           observers of the patient stars
                    that mothered us to bear
true witness to the story of the past
       unfolding everywhere,

enabling us to apprehend the music
                 of the whirling planets
         as they orbited the sun,
enabling us to feel the harmony
         fertile density had begun.

So here we are, observing with our eyes
                  the slant light through the pines
        before the orange sun descends
behind the bluish-purple misted hills;
         and here we are as moonlight sends

                 fresh flashings through the lake
and multiplies the silvery reflections
                 while they slide and spill
        and merge with our own thoughts,
which cast their own reflecting light at will

                 as if the act of looking
        added hue and aura to the night;
and here we are at dawn, here’s why we came,
                observing with our ears
the way the whip-poor-will repeats his name,

                 hearing the pulse of words
         we have evolved to listen with,
                 observing with the mind
the mind’s brave observations of itself,
                enabling us to find

        thought can engender from its own
               critical density
a fertile universe through which to roam,
        which metaphor, in blue or green
or red or white, can designate as home.

Robert Pack

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 12 Number 7, on page 34
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